On the process of doing research.

Question: if you are the first person in the known universe to attempt a reaction, why on earth would you assume that the reaction has worked and progress to the next step without characterising your product fully?

I appreciate that undergraduate labs are often ‘illustration of concept’ labs that have been designed and further refined to work properly with only a tenuous link to experimental technique, but there seems to be a major logical gap between the idea of carrying out research and verifying that the experiments have worked. This comes up from time to time with students and it always makes me stop and wonder what’s going on. And where’s the curiosity? Where is the drive to prove that you were the first to do a reaction and here is the best possible evidence to support that? That’s probably more to do with ego than curiosity but still.

I suppose the flip side is far bleaker – when did I become more cynical that my working assumption is that a reaction has not worked ? And I assume that I need to analyse it fully to determine just how much it has failed before varying something and trying again! Perhaps the more optimistic approach is better, but then there is the disappointment…

Comments please!